Ahh, the great gourd!! This once rarely-brewed and lesser known style of beer has seen its distribution and quantity skyrocket by geometric proportions in the last few years. Once only available in the fall, the breweries decided to release them in July this year, which I believe will affect their popularity negatively in the long run.
The use of the pumpkin in beer goes back to the colonial period where the new settlers found that this native American gourd could be used for any number of things: pies, custards, puddings, breads, etc. It was a cheaper ingredient than malt and much more prevalent in the colonies since most malt had to be imported from Mother England. But as malt became easier to acquire, the labor-intensive process of using the pumpkin fell out of favor.
It was resurrected here in the States in the 1980s by Buffalo Bill Brewing of Hayward, Calif. It did not take the beer world by storm to be sure, but, then again, not much did back then. The brand did hang in there and has survived to see its progeny flourish. I remember tasting it for the first time in the early ’90s and thinking it was too unusual for me, but I had a less sophisticated palate than I do now. Today, I eagerly anticipate their availability.
There are three ways to brew a pumpkin beer. One is to use fresh pumpkin where you have to cut it up and roast it to bring out the sugars and then put it in with the mash. That is very time consuming, and for large batches, intensely laborious. It also limits its season as pumpkins are not a year-round produce. Next, you can use pumpkin puree, which is available all year and still fulfills the “pumpkin” part of its designation. Lastly, you can just use the spices associated with pumpkin pie: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc. Though Buffalo Bill Brewing attempted to use fresh pumpkin, they found the spice recipe to be more economical for annual production. As a matter of fact, I was reintroduced to this style in 1998 at my first Great American Beer Festival. Cottonwood Brewing brewed a Great Pumpkin Spiced Ale that tasted just like pumpkin pie, and I was in love again.
Now, the trend is to “imperialize” the style and ramp up its abv and spices. It seems that Southern Tier began the trend with Pumking. This almost 9 percent abv beer is made with pumpkin and is the only one I have had that presents the real flavor of the gourd and is distinguishable from other brands. Other local favorites are Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, Dogfish Head Punkin, Brewworks Devious Pumpkin, Brooklyn Post Road, Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin and Shipyard Pumpkin. Tuckahoe Brewing in Ocean View has amped up the flavor on their Holly Beach Pumpkin Ale this year and it is excellent. Don’t miss it! Iron Hill Brewpubs will be releasing their pumpkin ales on Sept. 7 and can be purchased in the bottle also. Maple Shade’s Imperial is one of the best around. Tun Tavern will also be brewing theirs up for October release. Brewer Tim Kelly uses fresh pumpkin and spices and brews an excellent example of the style.
So, enjoy the gourd while it lasts. Stock up on it so you still have some for the fall. Many will be gone by then. Cheers!
I stopped at Gourmet Italian Cuisine in Galloway the other day and found two pumpkins on the menu: Long Trail and Shipyard. Manager Kyle Cook told me the Shipyard is almost gone and is not replaceable and it’s only August!! Of course, the other 30 taps they have had on some great selections like DFH Raison d’Etre, Great Lakes Erie Monster, 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, Tuckahoe Porter and even a few ciders.
For those that missed the baseball-themed dinner at The AC Country Club last week, you passed up an exquisite experience. The food from Chef Ed Daggers was simply amazing and plentiful. The beers from NJ Beer Co were an excellent accompaniment to the cuisine and the brewery reps were very informative. Loved their newest addition LBIPA! Rumor has it a football tailgating theme might be in the works for Fall so keep an eye out for upcoming events. Thanks to Jerry Eisenband for another well-executed event.
Next up, Oktoberfest beers! Gesundheit!